"God = Extraterrestrials." That's what the headline says in an ad running in the L.A. Weekly. This is the copy:
"Life on Earth is a deliberate genetic engineering creation, using DNA, by an advanced race of people who made human beings literally in their image. Traces of this epic masterpiece can be found not only in the Bible, but in the ancient texts of many cultures. . . .
"The word 'elohim' in Genesis is a plural word which does not mean 'God' in the singular but 'those who came from the sky.'...The Elohim, our fathers from space, wish us to build them an embassy, so they may return and share with us their love and knowledge. This message was given to Claude Vorilhon 'Rael' in 1973 by an extraterrestrial."
The ad features a photo of the cover of Vorilhon's book, The Message Given to Me by Extra-Terrestrials (subtitle: They Took Me to Their Planet). The logo of Vorilhon's outfit is a Star of David with a Nazi swastika inside. You figure it out.
The Christian World Report, published in Niagara Falls, has been running a series on Catholicism. The author, Charles G. B. Evans, says he hopes "this series of articles will serve to clear up any misunderstandings or misconceptions regarding the doctrines in question."
He asks, "Is it proper to worship Mary?" Without stopping to answer that, he turns to "the motherhood of Mary":
"I strongly and firmly believe that although Mary did conceive and give birth to Jesus, she is not actually and literally his mother, or at least she is not his mother as we classify mothers today. Rather, she was merely a vessel chosen for his human birth."
Evans' position is confusedly stated and appears heterodox even by traditional Protestant standards. He doesn't just deny that Mary should have the title "Mother of God." He says Jesus Christ--not the Second Person of the Trinity, mind you, but Jesus Christ as both God and man--"has always existed. He was alive long before his 'mother' Mary was born!"
Is Evans saying Christ's manhood existed with his divinity from all eternity, as distinguished from the orthodox position (orthodox for Protestants as well as Catholics) that his manhood was created at his conception? It's hard to be sure what Evans thinks. His writing is unclear.
So's his knowledge of Catholicism. Although he has undertaken a series on Catholicism, he seems to know little about the religion he's discussing. At least he reveals no awareness of Catholic responses to the standard charges.
He condemns the Hail Mary because it is "very wrong indeed to memorize a prayer and repeat it so often." (Surely Evans has memorized the Lord's Prayer. How often does he pray it? Is it wrong for him to pray it repeatedly? On his own principles, yes. Besides, what constitutes "so often"?)
He rejects the Assumption because "this peculiar teaching claims that Mary was received up into heaven bodily without ever having died."
(The doctrine as formally defined is silent about her death, but most theologians and popes have said she died and then was taken up.)
Evans rejects Mary's perpetual virginity because "firstborn" in Matthew 1:25 must mean Mary had at least a "secondborn" child. (This shows Evans is innocent of any knowledge of what the ancient Jews meant by "firstborn.")
Future articles in his series will examine these questions: "Are confessionals necessary? Is it proper to call a priest 'Father'? Can a priest or the pope forgive sin? Was Peter the first pope? What does the Bible say about popes?"
We've written to Evans, giving him a complimentary copy of Catholicism and Fundamentalism and asking him to read it carefully before writing anything further. We'll let you know if he replies.
"Nothing can exceed the credulity of the early Fathers, unless it may be their ignorance." That's Robert Ingersoll being quoted in Biblical Errancy, the atheist newsletter.
"They believed everything that was miraculous. They believed everything except the truth. . . . They revelled in the misshapen and repulsive. They did not think it wrong to swear falsely in a good cause.
"They interpolated, forged, and changed the records to suit themselves, for the sake of Christ. They quoted from persons who never wrote. They misrepresented those who had written, and their evidence is absolutely worthless.
"They were ignorant, credulous, mendacious, fanatical, pious, unreasonable, bigoted, hypocritical, and for the most part insane."
In other words, they weren't like us atheists, said Ingersoll, who also had this to say: "At the bottom of the ladder is Catholicism, and at the top is Science....
"Roman Catholicism is the enemy of intellectual liberty. It is the enemy of investigation. It is the enemy of free schools. That church always has been, always will be, the enemy of freedom. It works in the dark.
"When in the minority it is humility itself--when in power it is the impersonation of arrogance. In weakness it crawls--in power it stands erect, and compels its victims to fall upon their faces. The most dangerous institution in this world, so far as the intellectual liberty of man is concerned, is the Roman Catholic Church....
"It may be said that Luther and Comte endeavored to reform the Catholic Church. Both were mistaken, because the only reformation of which that church is capable is destruction. It is a mass of superstition." These quotations are taken from Ingersoll's Works.
Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899), the son of a Congregational minister, was a lawyer and politician. He was also something of a crank. But his present-day heirs think he was a great crank, so they quote him.
His rhetoric had a certain power to it, but his mind lacked subtlety. When fed to equally unsubtle minds today his rhetoric seems convincing. It is more a matter of decibels than logic, but some people are impressed by decibels and build their lives on them.
As long as we're talking about atheists: The South Florida chapter of American Atheists has demanded that the government remove from the floor of the ocean a statue called Christ of the Deep. The statue is submerged off Key Largo. The group says the statue is a religious image that has no place in a public park.
One problem is that no one is sure who owns the statue, which is nine feet tall and weighs two tons. It stands near the boundary between Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and was donated by the Underwater Society of America in 1964 to commemorate those who died at sea.
"I find it incredible that someone had the brazen gall to install such a shrine on public property," said Romulus Roberts, a member of American Atheists. "This is a public park, funded by the public's money, and there are other people in this world besides those who believe in Christ."
Roberts is right of course, so we propose a compromise: On the other side of the park install a statue of Robert Ingersoll.
Steve Blow writes in the Dallas Morning News that he attended Robert Tilton's "Spectacular Easter Celebration" at the Dallas Convention Center. The billboards promised "drama," "full orchestra," "choir," "special effects," "animals," and "free admission."
Tilton "presides over the 8,000-member Word of Faith Family Church in Farmers Branch. His daily TV program, Success-N-Life, is broadcast all over the country (and four times a day in Dallas). . . . He ends every TV show with the same exhortation: Send me your money, and God will answer your prayers. New car, better health, more money--whatever."
During the service Tilton "brought his wife and four children on stage to introduce them. He leaned down to ask Matthew, 4, if he had anything to say. And Matthew blew a big raspberry into the microphone. The congregation roared with laughter.
"The centerpiece of the two-hour service was a lavish musical, How Great Thou Art. It featured a 70-voice choir, a 30-piece orchestra, dozens of actors, lasers and smoke clouds, donkeys and horses, and a camel.
"The crowd clapped when the camel made its entrance and laughed when the donkey balked in the aisle and left Jesus on foot. As the pageant reached its triumphant climax, the backdrop suddenly fell away to reveal a huge sign. It must have been 40 feet high. 'He is Risen,' it said. 'JESUS .'"
A reader sent us a copy of an article from the New Orleans Item. Dateline: July 20, 1946. Headline: "GUILD EXPLAINS DOGMA." The article begins this way:
"They've talked to crowds, hecklers, goats and pigs, and to nobody. They've talked in Jackson Square, up in the country, in Algiers. They're the 12 licensed speakers of the National Catholic Evidence Guild here, whose emblem is their soapbox-like platform."
The Catholic Evidence Guild began in England shortly before World War I. After the war the first American chapter was started, and the New Orleans chapter was begun in 1938 by Joseph Buckley, S.M.
The article explains that "becoming a licensed speaker is a difficult process. A lecture is given on some doctrine of Catholic faith every Tuesday night. Sometimes there is a series on the same topic. The longest on record was Father Buckley's course on the credentials of Christianity, which took about a year and a half. When they feel qualified, members pick out a topic, read up on it, and prepare a 12 to 15-minute talk on the subject."
The chairman of the chapter explained, "Then they take it to the moderator who gives it back about four times for changes. After that, it is given in lecture form to the group, who heckle the speaker every way they know how, scream questions at him, insult him, and generally make themselves obnoxious. That's so he'll be able to face any and every reaction.
"He then goes before a board of three or four priests at the seminary, who question him on his subject. If he passes that, he's licensed to speak on that one topic."
The article continues: "A man who is qualified to speak on all Catholic subjects gets a much longer, more rigorous drilling. Such a general speaker is called a general chairman, and there are only five in town. Each speaker is expected to add another topic to his repertoire at least once a year."
When Guild members took to the street corners, the "average crowd [was] about 25, with as few as ten and as many as 75 on some Sundays." The speaking was done generally in Jackson Square. Things didn't always go well.
"Once we picked one of the toughest corners in Algiers," said the chairman. "We did everything possible to get listeners. But it was on a corner surrounded by bars and one ice cream parlor. Finally, we brought along a screen, a projector, and a Mickey Mouse cartoon. We had dozens of kids watching. As soon as the film was finished and we started telling them about the Bible, they all walked off."
The New Orleans chapter of the Guild long since disappeared. In fact there are no chapters left in the United States and only two anemic chapters in England. The Catholic Evidence Guild, once led by Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, his wife, was vibrant in the twenties and thirties and declined rapidly in the late forties and fifties.
Can it make a comeback? It already has, though not under the name Catholic Evidence Guild. It now appears in other guises, using, as a rule, means other than street-corner preaching. You already know one of its successors: Catholic Answers.
If you're deathly afraid of offending someone, don't bother with apologetics. No matter how careful you are, no matter how cautiously you speak, there will be someone, somewhere, who will take offense.
Some folks just seem to be on the lookout for trouble. They find problems even where they don't exist. You might say they suffer from a species of scrupulosity.
We have two examples, one from a nationally-circulated Catholic newspaper, the other from our own recent experience.
The April 27 issue of the National Catholic Reporter, which is the most liberal of the five nationally-circulated Catholic papers, included a letter from Ruth McDonough Fitzpatrick, national coordinator of the Women's Ordination Conference. Here is her letter:
"I 'misspoke'! Please print this letter of correction. I refer to my quote in the article 'NEW YORK TIMES AD PROVOKES FEW NEGATIVE REPERCUSSIONS,' of March 23. When Pat Windsor interviewed me by phone, I fell into the old racist trap of using the word 'blackballed.' I nearly died to see it in print.
"I'm sure I probably did say it, even though a few years ago I took on the NCR for using the same word. My letter was published calling it a racist word. A series of letters responded saying it is not a racist word, but was used to decide a vote. I still maintain it is a racist word and should not be used.
"The same evening that the NCR arrived, I attended an evening WATER (Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual) event on 'Womanist Theology.' We discussed the negative use of the word 'black,' i.e. 'black storm couds,' 'black expression on one's face,' 'black hats' versus 'white hats' and so forth.
"I cringed in my chair to realize I had fallen into negative talk once again. I am so painfully aware of sexist language, yet even so I fall again and again into using obscure forms of it. I struggle daily with the language issues."
Look at that again: "I had fallen into negative talk." In the old days people used to confess that they had fallen into sin. Back then, you knew when you had sinned and when you hadn't. At least most people did.
Sure, there were some who suffered from scrupulosity, which is seeing sin where there is no sin, but at least the old scrupulosity dealt with sin in the normal sense of the word.
Today we see a politicized kind of scrupulosity rooted in a politicized kind of sin: in Orwellian terms, "badthink." (Look all you want in the old moral theology manuals--you won't find there the newfangled sins such as "negative talking.")
Is Fitzpatrick right in saying "blackballed" is a racist word? Webster's defines blackball this way: "1: a small black ball for use as a negative vote in a ballot box; 2: an adverse vote, especially against admitting someone to membership in an organization." There's no hint that the term, which Webster's says originated in 1847, has anything to do with race.
But Fitzpatrick suffers from scrupulosity. If she finds the word "black" having in any way a negative connotation, she concludes racism is involved. This is bad logic--and bad philology.
We bring her letter to your attention not because we're interested in the meaning of "blackball," but because the letter is a good example of how some people can be offended by absolutely innocent things--so offended that, when they find themselves guilty of these things, they think they must engage in public acts of penance.
It must be hard for someone not adhering to Fitzpatrick's ideology to have a friendly or even civil discussion with her. If she's this hard on herself, think how hard she must be on others, such as folks who aren't always accusing themselves of bad motives or bad thinking. Sometimes it's simply impossible to please people such as Fitzpatrick. No matter what you say, it's wrong.
Which brings up the second example, which has more to do with apologetics.
In April we gave a parish seminar which was advertised through flyers. The flyers, we thought, were innocent enough. Sure, we tried to make the seminar sound interesting, so we told people they'd learn how to defend their faith from the misconceptions of Fundamentalists. (The seminar was on Fundamentalism and how Catholics can use the Bible to explain their beliefs.)
We received a call from a minister at a nearby Fundamentalist church--not a far-out church, but what might be called a sedate "Bible-believing" church. The minister said he had come across one of the flyers and found it offensive.
"Please tell us what in particular you found to be offensive."
"If you don't see it, I can't explain it to you."
"Please try. If we've printed something offensive, we want to know so we won't do it in the future."
"As I said, if you don't see it, it won't do any good to explain it to you."
Back and forth it went for a few minutes, as we wondered why this fellow bothered to call if he wouldn't explain his gripe. The best we could do, it seemed, was to cool him down.
We explained that we have given many seminars and that non-Catholics frequently attend. They regularly tell us (as they did after this seminar) that we present both sides fairly.
Then this was said to the minister (the quotation is exact): "We always have gotten along well with people of other faiths, whether Protestants, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, or whatever."
Then his surprising rejoinder: "I find that sentence to be calculatedly offensive."
"I said I find that sentence to be calculatedly offensive."
"What do you mean?"
"Either you meant it as an insult to me, or, if you didn't intend to insult me, you simply don't understand why it's offensive."
We asked for an explanation. What in particular bothered him? He refused to say, and with that he said good-bye.
What could have riled him so? We didn't imply Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses (or "whatevers") are Protestants. We could see how Protestants might take offense at that.
Did he object to our giving these other religions equal billing with his? ("How dare you put my faith in the same sentence as theirs!")
Did he object because we didn't include, in knee-jerk fashion, some ritualistic condemnation of the others? ("We have always gotten along well with people of other faiths, whether heaven-bound Protestants or absolutely damned Mormons or going-to-hell Jehovah's Witnesses.")
We don't know what we said wrong, but probably anything we would have said would have been wrong. He would have found offense no matter what.
What to do in such cases? There's no way to predict what some people will find offensive. Should we pull back and say nuthin' to nobody? Should we hire a board of censors--co-chaired, perhaps, by representatives of the Women's Ordination Conference and a local Fundamentalist church?
If we--or you--worry about such things to excess, nothing will get accomplished. The fact is that some folks are hypersensitive. It doesn't matter what you say. They want to be offended, they need to be offended, and they'll find offense in something. If it isn't something reasonable, they'll be pleased to take offense unreasonably.
Some of them will call you up and read the riot act. Others will look for some way to do public penance. The former find the offense in others, the latter find it in themselves. But that is of little consequence: They're united in their extreme scrupulosity, and there isn't anything you can do about it, other than to drop dead.
We don't propose to do that, and we don't suggest you do that--at least not voluntarily.
"In the early 1940s, a young Polish salesman, employed by I.G. Farben Chemical Company (manufacturer of Cyanide Gas) sold cyanide to the Nazis for use in Auschwitz....Fearing for his life after the war, he took refuge in the Catholic church (cult) and was ordained a priest in late 1946. In 1958, he was ordained Poland's youngest bishop. After the 30-day reign and assassination of his predecessor, he assumed the papacy as Pope John Paul II...and now controls an organization in America called the Jewish Federation and one of its many branches, the Cult Awareness Network which kidnaps and 'deprograms' Christians and other victims."
If you haven't guessed, we'll tell you: This is the lead paragraph to Tony Alamo's latest tract, Fugitive Pope.
Don't bother trying to refute it. That would be an exercise in futility: Alamo's troops won't believe you (if he said the sun is green with red polka dots and you said otherwise, you'd lose), and most folks don't need to be told this is crazy talk.
(But in case you're curious about how many errors can appear in one paragraph: (1) Karol Wojtyla never worked for Farben; (2) the Nazis didn't use cyanide gas in the death camps; they used Zyklon-B; (3) Pope John Paul I wasn't assassinated; (4) the present pope has no connection with the Jewish Federation; (5) the Cult Awareness Network, which is an Evangelical organization keeping tabs on groups such as Alamo's, isn't connected with the Jewish Federation either; (6) the Cult Awareness Network doesn't engage in kidnapping or deprogramming.)
The tract continues on the high road: "Pope John Paul II has never made one anti-Nazi statement, certainly because he is a Nazi." Come to think of it, the Pope has never made one anti-Hittite statement either. Are we to conclude John Paul II is a Hittite?
We admit we don't know how many Hittites there are in the world, if any, but we do know there aren't many Nazis left and that the threat they pose to world peace is tiny. We wouldn't be surprised if a pope thought there were bigger problems to discuss.
"State and Federal agencies with their news media and judicial system in every nation, under instructions from Rome, will certainly say that Fugitive Pope is hate literature"--and with good reason, we'd say. The tract ends with a reference to "Tony Alamo, World Pastor." Good grief!
And now for some pleasant news. Holy Apostles Seminary, in Cromwell, Connecticut, has specialized in late vocations--that is, it has trained men who, in their thirties, forties, or later, have concluded they are called to the priesthood. (The seminary also trains men who are of normal seminary age.)
Now Holy Apostles is starting a program for "inactive" priests, those who were laicized or otherwise "dropped out" and who want to return to an active priestly life. In one month alone the seminary received 25 inquiries, and it hasn't even started its advertising campaign yet (and may not need to). Priests who want to come back are sponsored by their bishops or religious superiors and study at Holy Apostles for two semesters.
A well-intentioned but anonymous person who thinks we need a change of religion sent us a pamphlet written by Joseph Zacchello, who describes himself as a "former R.C. priest." Zacchello is one "inactive" priest Holy Apostles Seminary will never see.
For many years he has gone about trying to convince people to leave the Catholic Church. His pamphlet is titled Purgatory is a Goldmine of the Roman Catholic Church: How Priests Raise Money for Personal Income. Not a catchy title, but you know just what's inside.
Well, not quite. You might think this is an up-to-date look at purgatory, but it's not. For instance: Zacchello complains about a letter written by the Archbishop of Winnipeg, Canada--in 1944! (There's a new archbishop now, of course, but maybe he hasn't written anything Zacchello objects to.)
Apparently the tract has been in print more or less constantly since the 1940s (you can tell it has been reprinted within living memory because the address of the sponsoring ministry includes a zip code; there were no zip codes in use until the 1963.)
Zacchello's disinclination to update the tract perhaps says something about the value of his argument. If the best he can do in nearly half a century is add a zip code, either his argument already was perfect, or it was so weak there wasn't much that could be done with it.
What is his complaint? That priests take stipends for Masses. Zounds! What a revelation! How low can priests go? Today they get stipends, and tomorrow they'll want health insurance. What next?
We'll tell you what's next: the coming of the Antichrist. So says Sister Guadalupe of Guatemala. A newsletter called United We Stand, edited by Linh-Duoc Nguyen of Westminster, California, promotes Sister Guadalupe's visions. It describes her as "the most eminent figure of the Church, as she lives without a physical heart: Her heart was taken up by our Lord Jesus and replaced by the Immaculate Heart of our Blessed Mother."
Nguyen had seen Sister Guadalupe "during the Seers' Meeting in Australia, February 1988." (We didn't know seers held conventions.) He explains he has been printing in Spanish, English, and Vietnamese the messages she supposedly receives from Mary. "Help our Lady to fight the Antichrist, who is already here! Eight public messages for the world are now available to you."
One of the attachments is a poor photocopy of a handwritten letter from someone who signs himself "Bishop Nick, O.F.M." Tacked to the end of the letter is one of those return address stickers you put on envelopes: "Bishop N. D'Antonio, New Orleans, Louisiana."
Don't bother to look up this guy in your copy of the official Catholic Directory. He's not a real bishop, just as Sister Guadalupe isn't a real seer. How could she be when she attributes to the Virgin lots of nonsense, such as this: "The priests and the nuns do not want to listen to my voice." That may be true of some, but it's a slander against good priests and nuns; Mary never would make such a gross generalization.